Finally! I get it! At long last, it worked! Jubilant dance of joy! Happy dance of succcess!
I’ve conquered mayonnaise! I mean, I can now make mayonnaise at home from eggs and oil, not that I took over Miracle Whip headquarters by force (though I considered it). And I can now have my mayonnaise sugar-free, a nearly impossible to find item at the grocery.
After months of searching up recipes and testing them, I found the flaws in my technique (and in many of the recipes — I don’t think every recipe on the internet is kitchen tested, if you know what I mean).
A couple of things: First, when you really want to know how to do something right, the internet probably isn’t the best place to go first (current blog notwithstanding, of course). For a recipe as fundamental and ancient (ok, not ancient…venerable?) as mayonnaise, you’re better served by going straight to the source. Get a Julia Child cookbook and learn from the master.
Second, when a recipe tells you very, very clearly to do something a very specific way, you should probably do it that way. People who, like Julia, spent their lives learning to understand why food acts a certain way under one set of circumstances and wildly differently under another, probably have a valuable hint or two to pass on. I learned the hard way — after ruining many eggs and much oil — to listen to those who know.
So I looked up Julia’s mayonnaise recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (a must-have for anyone who really wants to understand any kind of cooking), which offered sublimely sensible advice. The book Cooking for Geeks also has a great explanation of exactly how and why mayonnaise — an oil and water combo, essentially — manages to work (it’s an emulsion). Finally, I found a cooking website that rises above the usual dross and chaff; they offer a SUPERB tutorial with very good pictures at eGullet.com (the link is for their non-stock sauces, of which mayonnaise is one, which I didn’t know. Scroll down past vinaigrette to mayo).
Where my technique was flawed:
- cold eggs (they must be room temp)
- using the whole egg (too many recipes told me to use the whole egg; it’s just the yolks for hand-whipped mayo)
- adding too much oil too fast (this is me refusing to closely follow directions)
- arrogance (see above)
The main trick with mayonnaise is too add the oil slooooooooowly. I mean, one drop at a time with zen-like patience, and thoroughly mixing in every bit of it before adding another. And the earliest drops should be drop-sized, not two-drop sized or half-teaspoon sized, as I haughtily thought would work just fine (it didn’t). I’m no newbie in the kitchen, thought I; surely I can add it faster and get awesome results due to my natural awesomeness!
Nope. One…single…drop. It should look like this:
Adding the oil this slowly is what allows it to start creating an emulsion – in this case, a suspension of oil in water. If you add the oil too quickly, the emulsion won’t form; you end up with a soupy bowl of egg and oil, and never the twain shall mix. That’s how all my prior attempts ended: soupily.
With Julia and eGullet’s help (and a downwards attitude adjustment for know-it-all me), I finally got it right. I used room temperature eggs, and this time I used only the yolk, as it’s supposed to be. What a difference! The yolk and oil, once treated properly, start turning creamy within a few minutes.
For this recipe (which is not specifically Julia’s, but uses her technique), I used only 1 egg, as I am now cautious about leaping headlong into a new recipe guns-a-blazin’ (spatulas-a-blazin’?), only to waste materials when it flops. Also, since mayo only keeps about a week, I prefer to make tiny batches. Good luck! Go slowly!
Home Made Mayonnaise
- 1 egg yolk, room temperature (how to separate an egg)
- 3/4 Cup oil, room temp (I used a combo of olive and walnut)
- scant 1/8 tsp salt (to taste)
- 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar, plus some drops
- scant 1/8 tsp dry mustard
If your egg is cold, you can put it in a bowl of warm water for a half hour or so to bring it to temp.
Place the egg yolk in a medium size mixing bowl (you want room to stir). With a wire whisk, break the yolk and beat til fairly smooth and creamy. Don’t try to add air to the mix. Add salt and mix.
Settle in a chair with your bowl, whisk, and your cup of oil at hand; handmade mayo takes time, and watching it happen can be a lovely and relaxing experience (well, maybe once you get it down pat). All the blender mayos I’ve tested have been inferior and loose (I suspect this is also due to recipes calling for the egg white along with the yolk). Time and hand mixing make a gorgeous mayonnaise. I spent twenty minutes this one, and Julia could do it in less than ten.
Add ONE SINGLE DROP of oil and mix until you can’t see the oil anymore. Repeat, mix; repeat, mix, slowly, taking your time. The yolk will start to thicken around the oil within a few minutes.
After you do this about ten times, you can start adding the oil in larger amounts — about a half-teaspoon to teaspoon at a time.
After about 1/3 of the oil has been mixed in, add the lemon juice or vinegar and the mustard, mix thoroughly, and then proceed with adding the oil. You can add larger and larger amounts now, watching to see how the mayo accepts it. (You will know if you add too much at once, trust me!)
By the time half the oil is in, it looks like mayo — if you get halfway through your oil and you just have soup, it’s not emulsifying. It should look like the pics below. If it looks more like the way oil drops look suspended in Italian salad dressing, it’s not happening. Start over! It took me a few tries to get the first oil drops small enough to properly start the emulsion.
If your mayo gets too stiff to work at this point, add more juice/vinegar by drops (little drops!).
Now taste your mayo, and adjust the salt and mustard to taste (don’t re-dip the tasting spoon; always use clean utensils for raw food that will be stored). Transfer to a small jar or covered bowl. Mayo will keep in the fridge for about a week.
Standard warning: Raw eggs shouldn’t be fed to pregnant women, little babies, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, people who are afraid of raw eggs, or anyone who was ever roughed up by a chicken. Always wash your eggs before cracking them open. Buy local, pastured eggs when you can; they are far, far less likely to come from sick birds than grocery store eggs. Happy eating!